It was the winter of 2009 and the United States economy was shrinking. In the last three months of 2008 the economy had contracted at an annual rate of 8.9 percent, the sharpest decline in more than half a century. It shrank at a 6.9 percent rate the next quarter. By February 2009 the country had lost more than five million jobs.
We know what President Obama did. In February, he pushed Congress to pass the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, an $831 billion fiscal stimulus package aimed at creating demand for goods and services to reignite growth and stop the downward spiral.
Since then, Republicans have condemned the legislation as an unmitigated disaster. “These policies have made our economic woes worse,” the House speaker, John Boehner, wrote earlier this month on the third anniversary of the bill’s enactment.
The attack hardly fits an economy that appears finally to be gathering steam. By the end of last year the economy had recovered to its peak size in 2007, before the recession. Employment is growing at a steady, though modest, clip. The jobless rate is 8.3 percent, down from 10 percent at its peak in October 2009.
Perhaps more intriguingly, the Boehner attack suggests a question: Were there other plausible choices? And would they have fixed the economy sooner?”